Google has announced a new algorithm change in which it is going to attempt to downgrade sites that scrape content or simply reuse what others are offering. It is rather ironic that in doing so, Google raises a legal issue many site owners don't even contemplate - content rights.
I am writing this article with the express intent of submitting it to various article directories and sites. In doing so, I will automatically agree to a non-exclusive license distribution agreement, to wit, I will agree to allow other sites to use this article so long as they meet some basic requirements such as including an article resource box with a link to my site.
Ah, but what if you don't have such a license. Most sites on the web will cite other sites and often copy part or all of their content. The question is do you have the legal right to do so? Let's consider a few examples.
Let's say you take this article and republish it on your site. You publish it without changing it and include the author box with an active link to my site. You've met the republishing license requirements and everything is good. Ah, but what if you don't include my author box? Now you've violated the license, a clear violation.
Then there are scrapers. These programs cruise the web and look for sites related to certain keywords. They then "scrape" off the content and it is republished on your blog or what have you. The programs all work a bit differently, but this is the basic idea. In doing so, the process clearly is a copyright violation. It would be akin to buying the latest Stephen King novel, copying the pages, binding them and then reselling them.
How many people run into legal problems because of this? The truth of the matter is not very many because hiring a lawyer to hunt down someone is expensive. Where the law has failed in some ways in this area, Google appears poised to provide a solution. The news that it will downgrade sites that use unoriginal content is a watershed moment.
Many of the trashy small microblogs and made-for-AdSense sites are in deep trouble. Without Google rankings, there is little need for them. Ultimately, technology will do what the law has failed to.